Search for renewal after Tucson tragedy: what Palin missed, what Obama got right
The idea that we can overcome our history and our baser instincts is the message great leaders send in times of tragedy and tension. It is the stuff of great speeches, and it is what President Obama gave the nation Wednesday night.
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That same choice between division and unity faces America in the wake of Tucson. Tune into any cable news channel and you’ll find plenty of people who’ve chosen the former, who have decided to feed the polarization in America.Skip to next paragraph
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Others have defended the status quo. In Sarah Palin’s statement released the morning of Obama’s speech, the former Alaska governor shrugged off accusations that her rhetoric had turned too violent, too heated. “When was it less heated?” she asked.
We are not slaves to our traditions
She’s right about that. Insults and violence have a long tradition in American politics. In 1800, a pro-John Adams newspaper wrote that a Jefferson victory meant “Murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of the distressed, the soil will be soaked with blood, and the nation black with crimes.”
When Teddy Roosevelt ran for a third term in 1912, he called his opponent (and former vice-president) William Taft a “fathead” and a “puzzlewit,” while in Arkansas, one of Roosevelt’s supporters brained a Taft supporter with a can of tomatoes.
So yes, alluding to “Second Amendment” solutions to political problems (as Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle did last year) is in line with America’s political traditions. But what Ms. Palin missed is what Obama got right. We are not slaves to our traditions, nor destined to slog along forever on the low road because it’s the path our predecessors chose. We can do better.
That message – that we can overcome our history and our baser instincts – is the message great leaders send in times of tragedy and tension. It is the stuff of great speeches, and it is what Obama gave the nation Wednesday night.